Review: Thundercat – It Is What It Is

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I had the pleasure of listening to the latest Thundercat album quite heavily since release day, following hot on the heels of the concert I attended and also the recent global pandemic starting to wind up to a fever pitch.

Folks who have listened to the virtuoso bassist before, especially the previous mammoth of an album, Drunk, will be struck by a couple things right away: the comparatively small track list of just 15 songs, and the spacey, muffled, airy feel of It Is What It is. While Thundercat has generally had a fairly vintage sound, though mixed heavily with modern musical conventions, the first half of this album really drives home the extent of that vintage influence. It Is What It Is also includes guest work from one of the old guard heavy hitters, with Steve Arrington on the track “Black Qualls,”  similar to Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald appearing on Drunk, but “Black Qualls” hits so much harder than “Show You the Way” (in my humble opinion).

It Is What It Is also has a much more somber element than previous albums. There are plenty of fun goofy tracks like “Overseas” and “Dragonball Durag,” and the artist isn’t a stranger to more introspective work, but that sense of mourning quiet is a steady thread throughout It Is What It is. For one thing, Thundercat is beginning his trek into the sunrise of middle age, as he put it in an interview, he’s got some gray hairs and some people he knew aren’t around anymore. The big source of this sense of mourning was the sudden passing of Mac Miller.

I’d never really listened to any of Mac’s music before, but seeing old videos, tweets, performances, interviews, etc, makes one thing abundantly clear. Those two had an incredibly strong friendship with an intense love for one another, so it’s no surprise that Mac’s sudden passing marked a change toward more somber work in his friend. Even the title of the album is a lyric from Mac’s song “Small World,” and other homages to Thundercat’s dearly departed friend pop up over and over again in the record.

This sudden tragedy is probably part of why several tracks are also Thundercat giving homage and love to the friends he does still have in his life, such as “I Love Lois Cole” and “Miguel’s Happy Dance.” “I Love Lois Cole” is a fun one, with a thrashier beat in the drums and an upbeat retelling of the fun and trouble the two musicians had growing up together.

Not everything on the album was perfect, sometimes the drums feel a little too faded in the mix for me, some things could have been brought out more, including Thundercat’s own playing, and the album felt a little short overall, but these are minor complaints for me.

The title track at the end is the real standout for me, with its introspective intro, a farewell to Mac, and then a guitar and bass duet that twists and turns chaotically, growing messier and more riotous as time goes on and leading ultimately to one of the few times I’ve heard a fadeout be used and not feel like a copout. After all, when it comes to the death of someone you loved dearly sometimes there just isn’t a resolution. It is what it is.

Take the time to tell the people dear to you that you love them, especially these days. Take care, folks.

4.5/5 Flaming Toilets Ov Hell

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